Friday will be a historic day for Middle Georgia prep football even before a football is snapped at the Georgia Dome.
For the first time since the Georgia High School Association moved state championship games to the Georgia Dome in 2008, three Middle Georgia schools will play for state championships in Atlanta. The three schools borrowing the Atlanta Falcons’ home turf on Friday also are three of the area’s true traditional powerhouses.
Hawkinsville will kick off the action Friday at 1 p.m. when it plays Irwin County in the GHSA Class A public school state championship game. Washington County follows at 4:30 p.m. against Calhoun in the Class AAA championship game. Northside completes the day with the Class AAAAA championship game against Mays, which is set for kickoff at 8 p.m. The Red Devils have won five state championships in school history, while the Golden Hawks and Eagles have three and two championships, respectively.
“Everybody talks about how great south Georgia football is and about how football in Atlanta is so good,” said Washington County head coach Joel Ingram, whose team broke the state record for points in a season with 717. “We’re like the middle child in Middle Georgia. But the middle child plays some dang good football, too.”
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Hawkinsville, Northside and Washington County have made 17 appearances in the Georgia Dome since the GHSA began playing neutral site playoff games in Atlanta 20 years ago -- the state semifinals were contested at the Dome from 1994-2007, and the championship games have been there since 2008. All other Middle Georgia schools combined have played in the Dome 30 times total. The only other midstate schools to play in the Georgia Dome more than twice: Dublin, Peach County and Warner Robins.
The three schools playing Friday have combined to win seven state championships over the past 20 years, with Washington County winning three championships and Hawkinsville and Northside each claiming two titles. All other Middle Georgia public schools have combined to win seven state titles in that same span, and Peach County is the only other midstate school to win multiple state championships over the past 20 years.
“The expectation of a Northside coach and football player is that you are going to make a run at a state championship every year,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said after his team’s state semifinal win over Allatoona. “It may not happen every year, but the mindset every year is to try and win one.”
While this is the first time three Middle Georgia schools have played for state championships in the Georgia Dome, it’s the fifth time in the past 60 years that three schools from the midstate have played for state titles in the same year. The feat occurred four times between 1992 and 2006.